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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Confident — and incompetent

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge,” wrote Charles Darwin inThe Descent of Man (1871). He was on to something, writes Kate Fehlhaber on Aeon Ideas.

Eighty percent of drivers rate their skills as above average, one study found. “Similar trends have been found when people rate their relative popularity and cognitive abilities,” writes Fehlhaber.

The incompetent tend to be incompetent about recognizing their mistakes.

In a semester-long study of college students, good students could better predict their performance on future exams given feedback about their scores and relative percentile. However, the poorest performers showed no recognition, despite clear and repeated feedback that they were doing badly.

While D- and F students overestimate their abilities, A students underestimate theirs, according to a classic study by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger.

. . . high-performing students, whose cognitive scores were in the top quartile, underestimated their relative competence. These students presumed that if these cognitive tasks were easy for them, then they must be just as easy or even easier for everyone else. . . . The difference is that competent people can and do adjust their self-assessment given appropriate feedback, while incompetent individuals cannot.

Here’s a discouraging thought: “Success correlates more closely with confidence than it does with competence,”  according to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code. “There is evidence that confidence is more important than ability when it comes to getting ahead.”

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